by Don Culwell

They were here, all 15 of them (elementary, middle school, and high school students) and anxious to learn about South Fork and the ecosystems at South Fork the afternoon of September 13. Docents Steve Smith, Larry Bintliff, Jim Solomon, and Don Culwell were on hand. Class outdoors in nature’s classroom lets one see “where the rubber hits the road.” Indoor learning allows time for “book appreciation,” some memory work, and understanding of principles. Outside there can be discussion putting into practice what one learns indoors…SEEING how the puzzle fits together. And so it was!

Walks along the trails led groups to a moist, seep area where colorful orange and red Touch-me-not flowers grew up to four feet high in moist soil of the seep area. Their fat fruits with ripe seeds inside “squirmed” and threw their mature seeds when the pod was touched (thus its name)…it surely startled the student holding a ripe fruit in his hands!

Garden spiders: two-inch large animals on eight, long legs with a big, rounded abdomen bearing bright yellow markings…attractive and making a web with one, large, white, zigzag thread (like a lightning strike) of silk across the middle.

Then there was the rock-hard gall found lying on the ground that, when cut open using a knife, revealed a small, greenish, larva that would have chewed its way out of the gall, probably a gall off of some oak leaf in the forest…the larva that would become some mature insect.

Back at the Riddle Cabin in the shade of the tall trees, classes discussed just what a tree was: a trunk that conducts water up from the roots underground up to the leaves high up in the canopy; leaves that contain countless chemical factories using the water, carbon dioxide from the air, and sunlight falling on molecules of leaf chlorophyll that absorb the light energy to fuel chemical reactions (photosynthesis); trees that make flowers and fruits to grow more trees, trees that provide food and home for animals that eat the seeds. THE FOREST IS INDEED ALIVE!!